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exhibiting 101
Promo Primer
Get the most out of your promotional giveaways by heeding these five tips. By Betsy Earle
Much like the hodgepodge of tchotchkes that many attendees collect while strolling the trade show aisles, exhibit managers' opinions regarding promotional giveaways are a mixed bag. Some view them as little more than a necessary cost of doing business, since there is a sizable percentage of showgoers who expect to leave every exhibit with some sort of freebie. Other face-to-face marketers consider swag a core component of their programs and a valuable means of driving traffic, engaging with attendees, and leaving a lasting impression that eventually turns a prospect into a customer.

Regardless of where your opinion lies, giveaways aren't going away anytime soon. So why not take a few steps to ensure you get the most bang for your promotional buck? Whether your swag strategy involves a modest bowl of branded items on your reception desk or an elaborate, integrated campaign, here are five things to keep in mind when selecting your giveaways.

1. Set a firm and realistic budget.
It's understandably easy to overspend on giveaways. Who among us hasn't flipped through a new promotional-products catalog and become convinced that the only way to impress booth visitors is to spring for a newfangled gadget that is far more expensive than we originally planned to spend? Generosity is a noble virtue, but when it comes to selecting giveaways, I suggest a reverse-engineered approach: Determine how much you can comfortably spend, and then divide that dollar amount by the number of items you need. The result is the cost-per-unit figure you can afford. For example, let's say you can budget $5,000 for giveaways, and you anticipate that roughly 3,000 attendees will either visit your booth or help themselves to a freebie as they walk by. This means you can spend about $1.67 per item, which puts you firmly in can-cooler territory, even though you initially had your heart set on handing out insulated travel mugs.

It's also important to factor in any setup and shipping charges when calculating how much you can spend per unit. Case in point: When my company printed our most recent batch of eyeglass cleaning cloths, 100 units cost $1.32 apiece. But when we added the $60 setup fee for the custom screen printing of our logo, each cloth's cost rose to $1.92, an increase of almost 50 percent. Obviously, the setup cost per item goes down as your total unit count goes up, but you'll want to be aware of how these extra charges impact which giveaways you can ultimately afford.

2. Be wary of trends. Do you remember when PopSockets first came on the scene a couple of years ago? These little adhesive accessories that make smartphones easier to hold were novel, useful, and easily branded, and before long it seemed that everyone on the show floor was giving them away. I kept the few that featured cute designs and tossed the ones that were branded with an obnoxious logo. But at the end of the day, I only have one phone, and therefore only need one accessory. While it could be argued that attendees shared duplicate items with friends and co-workers, I suspect that many of these tchotchkes fell – and continue to fall – into the "I don't need another one of these" receptacle, i.e., the trash. Now I'm hearing that the hot new trend is reusable straws, but the same question applies: How many branded, eco-friendly straws does the average attendee need?

Instead of following the herd or being swayed by your promotionalproduct rep's slick sales pitch for the latest must-have doohickey, consider opting for a giveaway that stands apart and isn't so on trend. If one of the main goals of promo items is to leave a lasting impression, which do you think will be more effective: an unexpected trinket, or another dime-a-dozen piece of swag?

3. Aim for longevity. Let's be clear: It's highly unlikely that your giveaway is going to sell your product or service. I've never heard or seen an attendee leave a booth and say, "Wow, this is a great water bottle. I'm going to do business with this company because they gave me this." However, if the hypothetical water bottle is desirable enough that the recipient holds onto it after the show, uses it on a regular basis, and in doing so sees your logo dozens of times in the ensuing months, it is possible that the attendee will think of your firm when he or she needs to make a purchase.

The trick, then, is to offer giveaways that have a high perceived value and/or resonate with members of your target audience enough that they'll want to keep your items long after they go back to their offices. So use your insights into prospects' wants, needs, and pain points to select giveaways that are either too useful to toss out or that reference a unique characteristic shared by showgoers. Are attendees concerned about a certain topic? Then offer them a stress ball with a thematic design tied to this common worry. Or if your audience has a cult-like devotion to a particular piece of pop culture, capitalize on your insider knowledge and hand out items that nod to its fandom. Swag that speaks to attendees' unique attributes is more likely to earn real estate on their desks and in their minds.

4. Consider size. Make sure that whatever you choose can easily fit into an average suitcase or, ideally, a carry-on bag, since more attendees than ever are traveling light. I was once at a show in California, and one of the exhibitors was giving away sombreros. Needless to say, I simply had to have one. While I definitely sported it on the show floor, it was questionable whether this sombrero was going to make it home with me. It may sound silly, but since I was so enamored with my new topper, I actually wore it on the plane – much to the amusement of my fellow passengers. However, I have to wonder how many booth visitors made the same effort. So while I applaud this exhibitor's creativity, it's likely that the majority of its sombreros ultimately ended up not atop attendees' heads, but resting on their hotel rooms' wastebaskets.

Another reason to think about the size of your giveaways is on-site storage. If you are exhibiting in a 10-by-10, where exactly do you plan on stashing multiple gross of plush versions of your company's mascot or other bulky items? Paying extra for accessible on-site storage of your promo back stock isn't the most worthwhile allocation of your exhibiting dollars, and having stacks of boxes sticking out from under your tablecloths is equally unappealing. In other words, opting for small giveaways that leave an outsized impression can benefit both yourself and attendees.

5. Think beyond swag. Did you know that the word "swag" originated as an acronym for Stuff We All Get? And while there is certainly no harm in handing out tchotchkes to every attendee who takes the time to visit your booth regardless of their qualification (or lack thereof), it can be beneficial to have higher-end giveaways on hand for valued clients and qualified leads. This could be as simple as giving these special visitors top-tier-brand water bottles instead of the entry-level plastic versions you're distributing to the masses, or ordering a dozen or so leather-bound notebooks for VIPs in lieu of gifting them one of the note cubes piled high on your reception desk. Investing a few extra dollars in premium promos for favored attendees can make this select group feel especially valued – and often reap dividends that more than offset the initial expenditure.

Each exhibit manager views giveaways in a different light, and their collective opinions are often shaped by the industries they serve, the nature of a particular show, and attendees' expectations. And while there isn't a magic formula for determining what role promotional items should play in your exhibit-marketing endeavors, this advice can help ensure that your giveaways give something back by way of return on investment. E

Betsy Earle, CTSM
managing director and founder of Event Driven Solutions LLC. Earle obtained her MBA at the University of Miami and earned her Diamond-level CTSM designation in 2018. Exhibiting101@exhibitormagazine.com

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